Most people associate driving with independence. Being able to drive independently is how we get from place to place and stay connected with family, friends and our community. But aging creates undeniable physical changes. Some of which may make driving a little more challenging. Reduced range of motion and vision impairments are two common examples.
In many respects, seniors are considered to be among the safest drivers on the road. They tend to wear their seatbelts in greater numbers, rarely drink and drive, and are more likely to obey speed limits. What puts them at greater risk, however, is they may have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or osteoporosis that make healing from injuries experienced in a car accident more difficult.
Finding the right car is one way to keep older drivers safer when they climb behind the wheel.
What to Consider in a Car for an Older Driver
A few important considerations to keep in mind when trying to find a safe car for an older driver include:
• Steering wheel tilt and position of air bag
• Location of seat belt restraint
• An older driver’s line of sight over the steering wheel
• Distance from the senior driver’s chest to the steering wheel
• Range of motion capabilities and blind spots
• Position of gas and brake pedals
• Adjustability of mirrors
Programs to Help Older Drivers Find the Right Car
Fortunately, there are several programs designed to help seniors find the right car. They include:
CarFit is a partnership that combines the expertise of AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the American Occupation Therapy Association (AOTA). Developed in 2005, CarFit utilizes a 12-point checklist to evaluate how safe a vehicle is for a senior driver.
Trained volunteer CarFit Technicians begin by identifying adjustments that might need to be made in steering wheels, seat belts, mirror positioning and more. The free evaluation typically takes less than 30 minutes.
The next step is to meet with a driving specialist who inspects their car for any potential issues that were identified in the evaluation. While they may make recommendations for adaptive equipment at CarFit events, no products are actually sold there.
CarFit programs are offered in the U.S. and in Canada. Search the CarFit Events page to find one closest to you or the senior you love.
AOTA Driving Specialist Program
Another option to pursue if there isn’t a CarFit event nearby is to search for a driving specialist through the American Occupational Therapists Association. These professionals specialize in driver rehabilitation and limiting risks for senior drivers. They are able to assess an older adult’s strengths and weaknesses as a driver. Driving specialists can also make recommendations for and help install adaptive equipment such as pedal extenders or swivel seats. The majority of these professionals are licensed occupational therapists.
Exercise for Mature Drivers
One last resource we would like to share comes from The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT AgeLab. Exercise for Mature Drivers is a series of exercises designed to help senior drivers improve strength, coordination, range of motion and flexibility. It can help older adults build and maintain the skills they need to be safer drivers.